The Happy Engineer Podcast

153: How to Master the Calendar and Get More Done

Struggling to balance your engineering career and personal life? Ever felt overwhelmed by your to-do list? Discover 5 secrets for calendar mastery and time management for engineering managers.

Inspired by an email from a listener named Will, who felt overwhelmed and struggled to get things done, we explore the crucial tool of your calendar… something we take for granted as “easy” and underutilize.

I share five actionable tips, from guarding your best hours to winning the morning, to help you take control of your time. These tips are just the tip of the iceberg – there are seven more waiting for you in the downloadable PDF scorecard.

Remember, you have all the time there is, and by implementing these strategies, you can shift from feeling overwhelmed to experiencing joy and flow.

Download the free Calendar Mastery checklist HERE that goes along with today’s training. Its built into our scorecard with 49 amazingly simple and powerful tips you need.

So press play and let’s chat about reclaiming your calendar and mastering your time.

Want free coaching, LIVE? Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


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Previous Episode 152: Biggest Lie Blocking Happiness is Everywhere with Eric Nehrlich


Winning at Time: Calendar Mastery for Overwhelmed Engineers

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, I explore the crucial skill of calendar mastery for engineers, providing valuable tips and strategies to help you take control of your time and maximize your productivity.

Here are the top three insights:

1. Guard Your Best Hours: Recognize your peak productivity hours and prioritize your most important tasks during these times to maximize your output and impact.

2. Shorten Your Meetings: Challenge the duration and frequency of your meetings, leveraging Parkinson’s Law to increase efficiency and create space for focused, strategic work.

3. Win The Morning: Craft a purposeful morning routine to set the tone for a productive day, aligning your mindset and energy for success in both personal and professional endeavors.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, click the podcast link below and listen to the entire conversation.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Listen to this email that I just got last night from Will. Here’s what he said. Zach. I need your help putting my bleep back on course, you fill in the blank, his rear end. I know it’s a strong way to start an email, but I feel like I’m overbooking myself and not having the right priorities. I’m going to speak candidly in this email and I’m sort of in an overwhelmed state, so bear with me.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:25] And he goes on to share a lot of what’s going on and then he says, I just. Can’t seem to get things done. I feel like I spend too much time getting set up or thinking about what I need to do instead of just doing it. And I can’t seem to break the cycle. And he goes on and he asks a lot of questions. It’s a really thoughtful email.

[00:00:43] And at the end, he says by the way, ignore any bad grammar or if things don’t make sense. I majored in engineering, not in English. And my brain is fried after today. Engineers. Engineers have a bad relationship with time. Engineers have a bad relationship with time. And when you don’t get this right, when you don’t have mastery over your own calendar and over your time, then things like Will is experiencing right here are going to show up for you.

[00:01:15] You’re going to feel constantly overloaded and overwhelmed. Even when you do organize your to do list, or when you do set your priorities, it still is true in your mind, and you’re going to say it out loud all the time, there’s not enough. When you don’t have mastery of your calendar, you experience guilt, that sense of guilt that you’re wasting time, that you should be doing something else, that you should be over here.

[00:01:41] You should be over there. When you’re at work, you should be at home. When you’re at home, you should be at work. And when you have a bad relationship with time, your mind is always. Somewhere else, maybe it’s better said your mind is always some time else. You’re living in the past, replaying the tapes, thinking about what’s already happened yesterday, the day before last year, or your mind is constantly in the future, like we’ll described thinking and overthinking about what you need to do instead of just doing it constantly planning stuck in your head, thinking about the future.

[00:02:16] Well, if you will take back your time. If you will focus on building a healthy and empowering relationship with this thing called time, then you can turn that around completely. You can go from overwhelmed to feeling productive, a sense of progress, knowing that you’re moving forward on what’s most important, and going away from this scarcity mindset of time to one of abundance.

[00:02:41] Because here’s the truth. You, and me, and Will, we all have All the time there is. You’re gonna switch from Feeling like you’re wasting time or the guilt that comes with a bad relationship with time. And you can get into a, an experience of joy and experience of flow with time. Don’t you love being in that flow state, that place where you’re just moving, you’re just grooving, time passes and you don’t even know what’s happening because you’re enjoying the work.

[00:03:13] You’re enjoying the relationships. You’re enjoying the things around you. So much. And you can get to a place where your mind returns to the present instead of being caught in the past or trapped in the future, your mind and your energy returns to the present moment. Because the truth is, the present is the only place you have power.

[00:03:35] And when you do that. You’re going to have so much more power to impact your career, to impact the life that you want to build. So how do we do this? How do we take back time? Calendar mastery really is a fundamental blocking and tackling skill set. If you want to build your engineering career, if you want to be a director or VP, or, or honestly, just be a happy engineering manager, regardless of how high you go.

[00:04:06] You must master time. It’s one of the four key areas, the four fundamentals of career building that I go through with all of our clients. And we’re going to go through those details. Now, the other three. I’ll go over in future episodes. So stay tuned. We’ll talk about them sometime down the road. Maybe I’ll even do those the next couple of solo episodes while it’s just you and me, but today let’s talk about the calendar.

[00:04:31] And as we go through this, I want to let you know the tips that we’re going to talk through today. Are all in our new scorecard that you can download right there in the show notes. So today we’ll go through several things. I’m going to encourage you to just pick one that you can apply immediately to get movement and progress in your calendar mastery today.

[00:04:54] Don’t worry about getting all five perfect right now, go download the PDF and you can have them for the future. Plus there are seven other tips around calendar mastery that you can. Take and implement for your career. This is the basics. It’s things you need to get right. So go grab the PDF and you can see what those are.

[00:05:12] Plus you’ll get a preview of the other three key areas that we need to master in building our career time mastery. There are two different ways that we experience time and mastery of your calendar does begin with understanding that both matter the first and more common one that engineers focus on is thinking of time as a resource to invest.

[00:05:37] It is a Newtonian view of time. You have 24 hours, the clock ticks at the same speed that the atomic clock has always been ticking and your job is to invest it wisely to make great decisions and set good priorities for how you use the time that you have. Mastery of your calendar in this way is essential, making sure that you don’t waste time on low priorities and that you establish a plan that’s going to set you up for success in your career and in your life.

[00:06:09] That’s a Newtonian view of time, thinking of time as a resource, but don’t forget that as a human, you also have an Einsteinian experience with time. What do I mean by that? Einstein talked about relativity and your experience with time is relative. Here’s an easy example, waiting in line at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for someone to help you with an issue, renewing your license plate.

[00:06:40] Oh, this is brutal. I know you’ve been there. You go into the BMV and you grab a number and you look at the, the thing at the wall that has what number they’re on. And there’s like 50 people between you and the person who’s up next. And it’s just brutal. And there’s nowhere else you can go. There’s no other option.

[00:06:59] And so you get. In line, every minute feels like an hour in that place on the flip side. Think back to that last romantic date night that you had when you went out and you really connected with someone. And the sparks are flying and the tension is high and you go to dinner and you have a glass of wine and you go take a walk in the park or along the bluff and it’s so beautiful.

[00:07:29] And you’re holding hands. Maybe it’s the first kiss. Everything is so romantic. It’s so intense and the night is over in a flash. it’s like we just got together and we’re already going home. And then you look at the clock and it’s fricking 2 a. m. or 3 a. m. It’s like, wow, how did this happen? Time flies.

[00:07:45] When you’re in an experience like that, and an hour feels like a second. So what’s the difference? The difference is knowing that we need to be responsible to both sides of this. Creating a great plan for how we invest the precious resource of time. And understanding and being intentional about where our time goes.

[00:08:07] But also knowing that mastery of time and a great relationship with time is also about how you experience time moment to moment. Each day of your career, and we want both. So as we look at this whole picture, these tips and tricks and ways to, to get the fundamentals right, are going to help you move towards mastery of both.

[00:08:32] And to really get to that place of, of true mastery and a positive relationship with time takes deep work and takes consistency in how you show up every single day. But let’s cover some basic tips. I want to share with you five things that will help you get started in mastering your time. These are easy things that you can begin doing right now.

[00:08:55] Number one, guard your best hours, guard your best hours. You see, not all hours of the day are created equal. Daniel Pink wrote a great book titled, When the Science of Timing, where he unpacks all of the evidence, the research that proves that you are not At your best all day, every day. You have certain hours when you are in peak state, easier than other hours.

[00:09:23] And there’s only so much we can do to mitigate the impact of that natural circadian rhythm. So know yourself and know which hours are your best and guard those best hours for your most important. Put your most important meetings, your most important tasks, the highest priorities in that time and do everything in your power to decline meetings or non essential tasks during that time, shut off distractions and make sure that you’re getting a significant R O T I, not just ROI.

[00:09:57] R O T I. It’s a return on your time invested. The first thing you can do to build a better relationship with time is realize that you are responsible to guard your best hours. A second easy tip, shorten your meetings, shorten your meetings. Most engineering managers and leaders I work with are in way too many meetings to begin with.

[00:10:26] And the cadence. And the duration is excessive. It’s more than you need. We just get into the habit of spending that time together, and it’s so easy to keep finding one more thing to talk about. So shorten your meetings. Parkinson’s Law talks about this idea that time, uh, work will expand to fill the time that we give it.

[00:10:49] So if you give yourself an hour to have the meeting, you will use the hour. If you give yourself 30 minutes, then you will get it done in 30 minutes. Or, you will find what the true constraints actually are. So challenge yourself. To go shorten your meetings, shorten them by 25 or 50%, not just a little bit to create a break between shorten them significantly.

[00:11:12] Maybe there’s a weekly meeting. You can experiment with doing it biweekly, go shorten your meetings. Easy thing to do significant impact in calendar mastery. Next boundaries. You hear a lot about boundaries. So here’s question. Here’s a test. That you can use when it comes to boundaries. What time are you going home today?

[00:11:40] what time are you going home? What time will you be done at most engineering leaders? I talk to say when I’m done or well, I need to be home by a certain time.

[00:11:54] For dinner, but I don’t know when I’ll leave other than saying, hopefully in time to get to dinner at the time. My wife wants me there. So we’re letting some other thing be the backstop and we’re putting the responsibility on our spouse or on a loved one who’s going to be upset if we’re late. Boundaries are about you proactively determining that even if you have no commitment later.

[00:12:21] And if you don’t have an answer to the question, what time will you stop working today? Then you don’t have a boundary. What you have is a problem. You have an open ended container for work that you’re willing to let anything fill. And back to the meetings conversation, Parkinson’s law tells us that you will find a way to fill it.

[00:12:39] Successful leaders protect their time and keep. Their boundaries. Choose today a time that you will leave if the work is not done, leave anyway, challenge yourself to find a new way to solve that problem. Don’t log back in at 10 o’clock at night and work till 1 a. m. Come in early the next morning, perhaps, or come in the next morning and address the reality that you currently are not managing your time the way you need to, that you currently are not.

[00:13:12] Accurate in your estimates of how much you can get done. And let’s correct that come in and realize you need to delegate more, come in and recognize you need to lead at a higher level, starting with yourself. All leadership begins with self leadership. And if you are unwilling to set a time that you will leave work, because you don’t know how much needs to get done, you have a problem that you believe everything is urgent.

[00:13:42] And it’s not next quick tip. Tip number four for today. Win the morning. Win. The. Morning. I know there’s a lot of pretty wild stuff out there when it comes to morning routines. Everything from, cold plunges, cold immersion, breath work, meditation, journaling. There is a entire Coaching domain dedicated just to morning routines.

[00:14:10] And I’m not going to go in and tell you what that needs to be. All I will tell you is that if you win the morning, you win the day. And there might be a thousand things that you could do that would be good for your morning routine. But I can also tell you, there’s a few things that are simply. Not good.

[00:14:27] All right. There’s not one right way to do it, but there’s a lot of wrong ways. And so we want to make sure not to do that. Don’t wake up and check social media first thing in the morning. Don’t wake up and check your email as the first activity that you do in the morning. Make sure that you design that first 30 to 60 or 90 minutes, however much time you’re able to carve out and you choose to carve out for yourself before you plug in with the outer world.

[00:14:56] Taking the time of intention to set yourself up for success beginning in your inner world, because remember all your results come from the inside out. So if your energy is not right, your mindset isn’t right, you don’t get yourself primed in a way that activates your mind and your body, then you are missing out.

[00:15:16] Without question, you are missing out on what you do. Morning routines are not about early, by the way. I’m not a believer in you have to wake up at 4am or 5am and join the 4am club to win the day. That is not true. It doesn’t matter when it happens. Morning routines are not about early. It’s about first.

[00:15:41] It’s about priming. So I don’t care if you wake up at 9 AM from nine to nine 30. That time is still yours. Make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. You win the morning, you win the day. And the last tip I’ll share with you for right now. Choose one great book titled The One Thing by Gary Keller.

[00:16:05] Check that out. One thing. Go back to that email from Will. He talked about being overwhelmed. He had so many things going on. People who are hungry for big results, who have big goals, who want to accomplish things in their life. We want to draw a big circle around all the things that we want to accomplish in our life and say, how do I get?

[00:16:28] All of this done as soon as possible. And that breaks our relationship with time because in time you can only do one thing at a time. So in your mind you can plan a hundred things, but in reality you can only do one right now. So, choose. Which one thing will you focus on? You can apply this on any time horizon, but here’s my recommendation.

[00:16:59] Start with the week, start with the week. What is the one thing that is most important for you to get done this week? Choose that thing, make it non negotiable, put it on your calendar, plan twice the amount of time you think you’re going to need to get it done so that there is absolutely no reason in the world that you don’t finish it.

[00:17:22] And see how much momentum that builds into your life. It is amazing how the one decision of the one thing creates a venturi, a draw suction into so many other successful patterns and habits and behaviors and actions and productivity for your week. And the reason I recommend the week is because it gives you a chance.

[00:17:46] That if your plan on Tuesday goes sideways, you can still recover and get it done Wednesday or get it done Thursday. So you have more buffer. If you only did this on the weekly basis, you’re still talking about 52 times a year that the most important thing to you gets done. That compounds, that builds, that’s how winners show up.

[00:18:09] I know there’s a thousand things on your to do list and the truth is you’re going to get most of them done anyway. But if you will choose intentionally, which ones matter most, it’s going to set the tone for your relationship with time to be far more positive. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed right now.

[00:18:28] I just gave you five tips, and I told you there’s seven more in the PDF that you can go download in the show notes. Zach, what am I supposed to do? Calm down, take a breath, and let’s pick. Are you going to guard your best hours? Go figure out which hours are your absolute peak and put your most important tasks in that window.

[00:18:49] Are you going to shorten your meetings? Are you going to protect those boundaries that you need to set? Choose a time that you’re leaving work today and honor it. That would be an amazing action item for you right now. Are you going to win the morning? Get more intentional about that first 30 to 90 minutes of your day and set up your mind and your body for success.

[00:19:10] Or will you choose one thing for this week? What is that most important action? Just pick one of these five and I challenge you to implement it immediately. Don’t delay. Don’t worry about winning at all five of these. Just pick one and do it now. Then go grab the PDF scorecard. You can see the rest of these tips plus all the others, and you can come back to them when you’re ready.

[00:19:36] The key is don’t leave this moment without a decision and an action to get one of these things moving for you.

[00:19:44] Remember, you have all the time there is, and if you need help. And how to master that time. If your calendar is running you instead of you running your calendar, Let’s talk about how we can support you just like Will is doing coaching with me right now to get this in order and to build mastery, to build momentum.

[00:20:07] We’d love to have you join us as well. So if that’s something you need, then reach out and connect all the ways to get support from me and our coaching are there in the show notes, but I’d highly encourage you. If you know that even these blocking and tackling things is something that you can absolutely grow in, then let’s get to work, keep crushing comfort out there.

[00:20:27] It’s not meant to be an easy, comfortable ride. The things we want the most, the things that you remember, the things that anchor your life’s memories and the things you’re going to talk about to your kids and grandkids on your latter days in that death bed and that epitaph. It’s not the stuff that frankly, we spend a lot of our time thinking about all the time every day.

[00:20:50] It’s the big, uncomfortable, challenging things. Go after those. See you next time. Let’s do this.